Friday, March 6, 2009

One Saddle, Multiple Horses

Though I'm not often a fan of generalizations, I think it's pretty safe to say this: there's no such thing as a "free" horse. Horse ownership is not an inexpensive endeavor. Even if there's no initial cash outlay to obtain said horse, there are the costs of housing (whether you board or have to maintain your own barn, acreage and fencing), hay, grain, vet, farrier, equipment ... When you add that all up, you're talking about a very substantial amount of money.

And if you own two or more horses, your costs increase exponentially. So it's no wonder that a good number of my multiple-horse-owning clients would love to find a saddle that will work for both - or in some cases, all - of their horses.
Is this possible? In some cases, yes. And sometimes - to quote a line from an old Calvin and Hobbes strip - "A good compromise leaves everyone mad."
If you have horses that are all of a similar physical size and type with similar backs and fitting requirements - say, a pair of barrel-bodied Arabs, or a few lean, high-withered off-the-track Thoroughbreds - it's possible. Not optimum, but possible. The general rule of thumb is to fit the widest horse, and use correction pads for the less wide horse(s). This is a situation in which a foam-flocked saddle is the best solution, since the foam will not begin to take on the shape of an individual horse. I know quite a few trainers who specialize in working with a particular type of horse - Thoroughbred eventers or dressage warmbloods - who have just one or two foam-flocked saddles that they use on the horses they work, and it works out quite well.
But say you have two very different horses - let's use the examples I mentioned before. You have Ed, a 14.2 hand Arab with a low wither and a back you could serve dinner on:

You also have Bob, a 16.3 hand OTTB with a "roof" back and a good wither:

These two conformations are so radically different that there's no one saddle that will fit both of them, no matter what kind of corrective pad you use. Ed will need a flat tree (and very possibly a hoop tree, to boot), a shallow rear gusset and perhaps an upswept panel; Bob will need a more curved, standard tree with either a K or trapezius panel and wither gussets, and perhaps a deeper rear guesset. A saddle that would work for Ed would sit down on Bob's withers and bridge, while a saddle that would work for Bob would rock, and perch on Bob's back like a party hat. In this case, two different saddles would be an absolute necessity.


Erin said...

I appreciate very much this blog and the importance of addressing the intricacies of saddle fit. But I have a dilemma. I am a foster rider for OTTBs. Horses coming and going all the time. What saddle do I buy??

saddlefitter said...

Great question, Erin - you've just given me a new subject to write about. I'll post on this very soon.